Ian Rush: Liverpool Can Challenge On All Fronts This Season
Before the start of the season, not many were talking about Liverpool as Premier League and Champions League contenders – mainly because they didn’t make any major signings – but I think that has played into the hands of Jurgen Klopp’s side.
Liverpool like being under the radar, but after going to Atletico Madrid and beating the Spanish champions in their own back yard on Tuesday, people are starting to take notice.
If they beat Manchester United on Sunday – and the Premier League betting odds suggest they will – there will be even more eyes on them. Should they win, maybe those who had been writing them off will be reminded that this team won the Premier League only two years ago and the Champions League before that.
Liverpool are actually playing the sort of football now that won them the league in 2019-20, which bodes well for their title hopes this term. Maybe that’s got something to do with the supporters being back at games, especially at Anfield, but they’ll have to stay relatively injury-free if they are to sustain this run.
The Reds travel to Old Trafford this weekend in what is one of the biggest fixtures in world football. Manchester United’s Premier League results haven’t been great of late and manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is under a bit of pressure, but you can take little for granted when these two sides meet.
It will be interesting to see how Klopp lines out up top because he now has four top class options rather than a settled front three and second-guessing who will start there for Liverpool does tend to confuse their opponents.
United have been conceding sloppy goals of late so whoever starts will fancy their chances of getting on the scoresheet. I reckon Klopp will go with the same front three as he did against Atletico – Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane. Diogo Jota will be itching to come on if he finds himself on the bench and he’ll be a good weapon to have if they need him.
Liverpool-Man Utd Rivalry
One of the biggest rivalries in sport, this fixture could be watched by more people than ever before, and that’s really saying something.
It’s only since I’ve travelled around the Middle East and the Far East in recent years that I’ve realised just how big this game is globally. In my day, we were always playing for the supporters who were in the ground, but these days players have the eyes of the world on them.
There’s so much rivalry between the two clubs that you know it’s going to be one hell of a game and usually when they meet, the team that is struggling – in this case Manchester United – are usually able to up their game.
Liverpool are favourites with the bookmakers and I agree with that but I don’t think it’s going to be an easy game, they’ll have to bring their best game if they’re going to get three points.
I wouldn’t say it’s a must-win game though, a draw wouldn’t be a bad result for Liverpool in reality. When you look at Manchester City last season, they lost three or four games early doors and everyone was writing them off, but they bounced back and won a string of games on the spin and ended up winning the league with ease.
So even if Liverpool lose on Sunday I wouldn’t panic just yet, but I fully expect Klopp to go all out for the win and look to keep the pressure on City and leaders Chelsea, who have a comfortable set of fixtures coming up.
Solskjaer is under a bit of pressure but that’s what you get when you manage a top club – losing a few games will always bring pressure. One or two defeats is all it takes for people to start asking questions, many Liverpool managers have had the same treatment in recent history.
It’s just the nature of the game, football is football, and if you don’t meet expectations people will be very quick to point the finger. It’s something football managers can’t get away from – look at Steve Bruce, he’s managed 1,000 games yet there was still pressure on him throughout his Newcastle reign.
When you’re at a top club, you have to produce the goods because there’s always someone waiting to come in and replace you.
Liverpool’s Champions League Hopes
I thought Liverpool started off really well against Atletico on Tuesday but Diego Simeone’s side came back into the game and made it a really interesting, entertaining game.
It had a bit of everything – goals, penalties, a red card and some VAR controversy – but in my opinion all the decisions were the right calls; Liverpool’s was a penalty and theirs wasn’t a penalty.
Antoine Griezmann was a bit unfortunate because I don’t think he meant to harm Roberto Firmino, but it was the right call for him to be sent off because he endangered an opponent, so he had to go.
For me, Liverpool are the most in-form team in the competition at the minute and are playing really well, so I don’t see any reason why they can’t win the Champions League this season. In fact, I believe we’ll have another Premier League team winning the competition this season, with favourites Manchester City and holders Chelsea also firmly in the mix.
Liverpool and Chelsea have both got the experience of winning the tournament in recent years, but the bulk of this Liverpool squad have actually been in two Champions League finals already, so if they can get to a third final you’d expect them to make that experience count.
When you look at teams like Barcelona and Real Madrid, I don’t see them posing much of a threat to the English teams this year because neither of them are the force we’ve come to expect. Bayern Munich, however, could topple anyone and I see them as the biggest threat to a Premier League team winning it.
When looking at the Champions League odds, I see three of the top five favourites are Premier League sides and I think that’s fair, but I believe Liverpool have as good a chance as any.
Salah Best In The World
One of the reasons I fancy Liverpool on all fronts this season is because Mohamed Salah is in the form of his life. I would go as far as to say that he is playing even better now than he was in his first season at Liverpool, when he ended up with an unbelievable 44 goals in 52 games overall.
He’s already got 12 goals in 11 games this term so he’s currently reaching those levels of consistency again. In fact, I agree with Jurgen Klopp – I think he’s the best player in world football right now. I can’t think of a more in-form player at the top level.
You look at the next generation coming through – the likes of Kylian Mbappe and Erling Haaland – they are fantastic but they’re not quite at Salah’s level just yet. I reckon Salah has taken inspiration from Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo and strived to take that next step up as an elite footballer.
The goals he’s scored recently against Man City and Watford, plus the work he did leading to James Milner’s goal against Atletico, were top drawer. He actually reminds me of Messi in his pomp. Salah is now in the prime of his career and Liverpool can beat anyone with such a player on their books.
We all know there’s been a bit of background noise surrounding his contract talks but I’m not concerned at all by that and I fully expect Salah and the club to come to an agreement soon. He loves playing for these fans, he’s in the form of his life and Liverpool look capable of winning major honours again. There’s every reason to be positive about his future.
Naby Still Has A Reds Future
There was a lot made of Naby Keita’s performance against Atletico. We saw the best and worst of the Guinean midfielder but people forget he’s still pretty inexperienced.
He scored a fantastic goal but then Atletico’s two goals came after he was beaten too easily in the build-up. I reckon Jurgen must have realised he needed more experience in this game and that’s why we saw Fabinho come on at half-time.
I put it down to a lack of experience from Keita – I see him as a player with a lot to learn and a lot to improve on. Fabinho brought a lot more to the team once he came on.
It’s good Keita wants to stay and fight for his place at Liverpool but now is the time for him to make his presence felt. He scored a wonder goal and it’s not his first this season, but he needs to learn from his defensive mistakes so let’s see what he can do.
He’ll be given more chances so it’s up to himself to prove that he still has a future at Liverpool and a part to play in this side. If he can continue to chip in with the odd goal and improve on his defensive skills then I think he has a future at Anfield.
My Finest Hour
I turned 60 this week but when I was a kid I remember dreaming of winning the FA Cup final. It’s all changed now of course, but back then I’d look forward to the final every year and I’d watch all the build-up from 9am and coverage right though to 5pm.
These days it’s all about the Champions League but as a child the FA Cup was the pinnacle for me. I’ve won the league five times for Liverpool, I’ve won two European Cups and five League Cups, but in 1986 my dream came true when we beat Everton in the FA Cup final and I scored two goals. We did the double that year.
As a kid I would have gone out into the back yard after every FA Cup final and pretended to be the goal hero, and in 1986 it became a reality as my two goals helped us win 3-1 over our Merseyside rivals at Wembley. It genuinely was a dream come true.
When I speak to young lads now I tell them to have a dream and believe in that dream – it doesn’t even have to be about football – but if you work hard at it your dream can come true. I played for Liverpool for 15 years and that moment sticks out for me as the most memorable of my career.
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